― Akira Kurosawa
I take coffee black – concentrated matt dark which gives me no hassle of a reflection. It is a usual routine, though some may call it unusual – we all have our own patterns I guess. I sit staring through the frosted crepe covering over the apartment window. I like to leave the window covered like that, the lacy trim almost a veil through which I can look at the outside world and feel pure and chaste, like a bride bundled into a ceremony over which she has no control. That is how we all operate, I guess. All part of one great ceremony. On the street below, people clot in a human saturate of confetti. I will have stared long enough for the coffee to go cold, for my eyes to focus, so that the piercing wakening white of the box-room is nothing more than a dirty beige. We notice the truth after a while.
I have been practising to smile. The mirror invites me – drawing the confused animal to the sheet of pure water – and I practice, curling my thin lips upwards, forging a façade of reassurance. Of course it is artificial – everything in the damn room is artificial, the light which seeps slowly like the matter from behind a bandage and permeates my senses sore, the plastic window plants which boast of their eternity, the toast which lies untouched on the plate like a piece of exhausted earth. I haven’t much appetite these days, for I am gorged with memories. I lie awake at nights, embryonic, squeezed into such a position in which I can imagine a pair of arms around me. Just for the sake of being alive.
But existence is the definition of loneliness and I am trapped in time – endless time which does not even need to unfurl itself amidst the artificial light, and sound, and occasional synthetic smells of some microwave meal from another room. It is difficult to be implicit, though I am usually quiet. Sometimes I imagine that I have been kidnapped, that I am kept in this room by someone who is utterly transfixed, captivated by me, watching me, holding me in this way which is hardly physical. I do not like to think that this is my existence, mediated by myself, for I am such a waste. I can take whole days in my hands and tear them to nothing.
The dry drum of my heart confirms that I have to continue. I rinse the remaining coffee down the steel sink, watching intently as the harsh black liquid dilutes and dissipates to a quivering grey. We are all diluted in some way – spread to hideous expanses in order to work, to operate. I start at 9 am, the official time I am reckoned to begin as a human being. I do not tend to wear very much when I first wake up, for that way I can stand as I think an artist’s model would do, imagine flesh and bone invested with a life of charcoal and graphite – most likely feeling much more than I do now. I do not look at my body as I put on my clothes. Tears waver tauntingly on the edge of my eyes but I dig my nails into my cheek to stop them, hold everything still. I feel numb.
Sometimes I enjoy feeling very little – I float between the hours in the kind of ecstasy. That way, an approach can be entirely medicinal – the array of scattered sheets over the single bed now an open wound with the skin scored back. I think it looks beautiful. Sometimes I wish I could take pictures, just pictures of here in my apartment so I can send them away to some distant art school and say something like ‘THIS IS MY LIFE.’ That is all.
But I don’t. in the mirror my face swims into view, some kind of terrible reminder. It has scarred cheeks and eyes which seem to grapple with the flesh for some kind of exposure. I apply face cream, foundation, powder, foundation again – working in short sharp concentric circles, slowly sifting, skimming, building - -if only to hide myself for a few hours. I hear a man screaming at his wife next door, followed by that undeniable dull thud of physical violence. I hear it every day, pulsing in my own ears, straight through my chest like a tight fist. And it doesn’t stop, no matter how hard I try. It is like a course of mockery.
I wonder why I have to live, why I was chosen to live. The red lipstick I slick over my lips like a lie seems so absurdly alive, throbbing, almost arterial. It makes a nice clean cut between both cheeks, I decide. That is the wonder with cosmetics – I ease life back into my face, some rouge or another beaming over bone, so I can blend back into the lines of acceptability. People will smile and nod at me and I say I look well, and I will probably mirror their behaviour back and everyone will smile or at least pretend to smile and we will feel convinced that we have done something right. Ha. Ha. Ha.
I don’t think many people want to live in the human sense. The perfume pools in the nape of my neck as I spread it hurriedly – we all try to cover that horrible salt scent of human existence some way or another. I laugh. A horrible puncturing sound – as if a foul animal has been suddenly uncaged. A horrible red row of mouth grins back at me. Ha. Ha. Ha.
When I throw my make up into my bag there is a comforting metallic click, somehow preparatory. I look at the calendar, pull the knife from the drawer. Mark another day clear. Wipe my wrist clean. Pull down my sleeves.
It is time to head for work. I look back on my apartment in confusion as if I am no longer the inhabitant, for how alien it looks, the strange furniture of existence spreading miserably in its confinement! I cannot remember when I last cleaned it properly – it just lies there like as soiled body, gaping and miserable. It is pleasant to have control over something, like torture of the aesthetic sense. One day, if I have the energy, I will buy a great number of cheap prints on canvas which do not correspond so I can smile bitterly at these stupid four walls in their injury.
Of course I choose the shoes I struggle the most to walk in. For females flutter about the wards like insects, constrained in some kind of secret male ideal – it gives the patients something to watch. Somehow like walking upon needles, waiting for the familiar jar into flesh. As I walk the jar, jar, jar of my breath. The hospital is only across the courtyard. I am two minutes early. At least.
The double doors smack back against the walls of the hallway like a pistol.
I am met with the sterile stares of other synthetic staff members – for we are all the same, though no one thinks of admitting it. I wish that I had stayed in bed, practised the art of my preservation of hours, seeing how long I could lie perfectly, cleanly still – slowly shifting the thoughts from my mind, every mechanism, in the hope that there would be nothing left. But I haven’t. There are so many things I have not done – for I am weak.
A new patient on the ward is in my care. Her eyes barely register as I slide in front of her cubicle curtain.
I tell her ‘Good morning’, but I know that’s a lie. As I take her temperature, the explanatory laceration purpling the throat like a necklace is inches away from my fingers. I want to ask her – how did you come to think of doing it? Did you write anything down before you tried? I wonder how it felt, I wonder if you did it so you could finally feel something, so you could see the vision that has haunted you all your life become an array of coloured circles and stars and a beautiful pressure – for I should know because I’ve seen it. .. –
She stares up at me and I am lost mid-thought. In her eyes lies a strength, a steely determination I could never grasp myself. For I am only here, just as everyone else is, because I need something to channel my madness into. We hold these people, under an act, under steel beds and straight-jackets, we hold them with the desperation of children. We let them personify our madness.
I choke on the emptiness and pretend a hasty exit to get some psychological papers. I go to stand at the window. It is a beautiful height and the people in the streets below clot like confetti. They have all jumped too, some way or another.